The spectre of a fractured verdict looms large over Uttar Pradesh as the state heads for a no-holds-barred multi-cornered contest for the 403 seats in the assembly.
Barely five years ago, the people of the state had heaved a sigh of relief when political stability had returned after 16 years. The BSP had crossed the crucial 203-mark to form the government without support. And Mayawati has become the first UP chief minister who had a term that overlapped with the five-year duration of the UP assembly.
Prior to that, the BJP had won an absolute majority way back in 1991 in undivided Uttar Pradesh.
The reasons for a fractured verdict are many.
Though Mulayam Singh Yadav's SP is considered to be the Muslims' first choice, the 4.5% quota, announced by the Centre, may influence them, specially the backwards in the community, to vote for the Congress. However, the party has got rid of political heavyweights such as Amar Singh who were proving burdensome and brought back Azam Khan.
The issue of non-governance, corruption, price rise, backwardness and the proposed four-fold division is not the driving force, especially in rural Uttar Pradesh. Caste remains the sole criterion. This was evident when young Congress leader Rahul Gandhi announced the caste of Sam Pitroda.
The BSP's experiment of a Dalit-Brahmin combination is unlikely to pay dividends in the way it did in 2007. On the face of it, the BSP has neither added any viable programme nor a vote bank to retain or improve upon its 2007 performance.
The question is who will benefit most from the division of votes. No one party can claim the total support of any caste, be it the 27% Dalits, 17& Muslims, 6% upper castes or 52% OBCs.
In a scenario like this and in a state where one-fourth of the seats are decided by a narrow margin of fewer than 3,000 votes, the poll results is too hazardous to guess.